When the king leaves who will take the throne?

Tommy Layden, Co-Sports Editor

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The NBA has been incredibly popular for the past few decades, however, the game is morphing and evolving as more older players are phased out of the league. In the last decade some of the biggest stars retired. No other player can replace global superstars like Kobe Bryant, Dwayne Wade, Tim Duncan, Kevin Garnett or Dirk Nowitski. But there has been a steady flow of incredibly talented young stars coming into the league.

This next wave of players has more than a few likeable guys who can ball out. In addition to the brand new talent, several players who were unknown have established themselves as elite stars. Despite the influx of new stars, the league will be completely different without a few superstars.  Lebron James is arguably the greatest athlete ever (still not the greatest basketball player ever*)  and he has been must see TV for my entire life. I am very curious to see exactly how the league will reshape itself when the man who could single-handedly take a team to the finals is gone. The sad or happy thing—depending on who you ask—is that Lebron will retire at some point over the next decade.

A few different things could happen when the King finally hangs up his gloves and calls it a day. The league as a whole will become more balanced, the era of a Lebron led team automatically getting to the finals will finally be over. However, this reestablishment of balance will come too late for some of the league’s biggest stars who simply have not been able to make it to or win the finals in Lebron’s NBA.

In the same way Micahel Jordan dominated the NBA and essentially prevented a slew of legendary players from getting to the finals, the Derrick Rose led Bulls, the Paul George led Pacers and the Derozan/Lowry led Raptors were beat in at least one Eastern Conference Final by Lebron’s Heat and Cavs. From 2011-2018 for eight seasons King had the East on lockdown. He ended the Celtics legendary Big four and prevented the  new, reloaded and younger Celtics team from reaching the finals. It wasn’t until Lebron went to the Lakers in 2019, that there was an Eastern Conference Finals that didn’t include James. In his first season in the Western Conference James was plagued by injuries and the Lakers did not make the playoffs. But before Lebron missed significant time for a groin injury the Lakers smoked the best team in the West, Golden State Warriors in a 127-101 blowout. They rolled a team with four all stars in their starting lineup and arguably three of the best shooters ever in Kevin Durant, Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson.  It was the first time in nearly 15 years since he had failed to make it to the postseason. The last time was his second year in the league in the 2004-05 season.

But by the time that Lebron retires in the next five years or so, the league’s landscape will be totally different. Young stars like Trae Young, Luka Dončić, Devin Booker, Jayson Tatum, Donavan Mitchell, De‘Aaron Fox, Ja Morant and others will have entered their primes and they will be the superstars. Sadly some of the players who suffered under years of Lebron’s abuse will never get a chance to play in the Finals. Fortunately the NBA is in great hands for the future and it will be quite interesting to see how everything falls together after losing a force like Lebron.

The game is changing the scores are higher and the pace is faster. While some may say the game has lost its beauty I would argue that we are entering a new highly entertaining era for basketball. Each draft it seems like the guys coming in are bigger, stronger, faster and more talented than the last years. This progression in skill has led to some increase in one on one style of play but one thing remains the same at its core.

The good teams have great players who can score, but the truly great teams have a group of guys who can play together in seamless harmony. After one of the greatest to ever play finally departs there will be a dramatic race for the next super dominant player to take over.